Thoughts on the 2017 Art of Retreat

This weekend I attended The Art of Retreat in NYC with many of the community leaders, business owners and athletes that have been directly responsible for the growth and progress of our young sport. Collecting my thoughts will be difficult so we’ll see how this goes.

I thought I was attending the event to discuss with others how and why we should form a national governing body for the American communities – after the first day of governance discussion with Eugene Minogue and Victor Bevine it became very clear to me that the solution to our communal plight does not lie within what others have done in the past, but rather within the parameters that are unique to the American market. While it was good to hear an international opinion ultimately the formation of our governance (or decision against governance) must come from the hearts and minds of American athletes and business owners that understand that nature of our capitalist democracy. This much you probably already knew.

In my opinion we cannot expect to grow in a calculated way as a national sport if we remain unorganized. It has been invaluable for each region to define its own marketplace and practices but I believe in order to grow exponentially we must level the playing field and start getting better about transparency of business practice and research so that all can benefit where few have prospered. In each region people are blindly having to make the same mistakes and jump through hoops that older entrepreneurs have already navigated – and we have the power to change that. By each organization and region investing in a governing body that is dedicated to the preservation and innovation of our sport we ensure peer review instead of monopoly.

There is of course the American sentiment that a government was made to get in a citizen’s way but we have the power to formulate and structure any system that we want. When the Founding Fathers and the members of the Constitutional Convention met to decide secession from the British Empire they were not purely reacting to foreign oppression, they were using foreign oppression as a focusing device to ensure a future for American citizens and businesses. They did not expect to topple the British Empire but merely to ensure that the future of our nation rested within the hands of her people. We do not have the power and resources to defeat FIG if they have their mind set on putting parkour in Olympics, but we can control the growth and innovation of the American communities through spreading out the workload so many have contributed to in order to strengthen our sport nationally by investing in young entrepreneurs.

I see the culture of excellence Brandee Laird Rene Scavington and Dylan Polin have instilled in their communities and it excites me for the future generations of our movement. I look at how Justin Sheaffer and Caitlin Pontrella can organize an event and I see a young athlete learning how to host a jam or event in their own community. I listen to Alice B. Popejoy and Craig Constantine efficiently facilitate discourse and communication that could improve every business in this nation’s sport. I witness the example set by entrepreneurs like Dan Iaboni Ryan Ford and Amos Rendao emulated by the current and next generations of our sport and with a concentrated effort on all our parts I believe we can develop a system that enriches our current businesses and emboldens our other community members to contribute to the marketplace with all our support.

I am still learning my role to play in all of this but I am convinced that I can use my ability to communicate to bridge these companies and communities together. I am humbled by the opportunity to learn from each of you and I look forward to the future we will craft together together. You have all inspired me for the better part of a decade and I am dedicated to returning the favor. When I think about this sport I am filled with nothing but pride and admiration (besides chronic knee pain). Thank you for your support and love as always.

On the 1,000 muscle-ups challenge

Craig: The 1,000 Muscle-ups Challenge is infamous and if you haven’t seen it we’ll link the video in the show notes. A lot of people I think mistake that as a suggestion for a way to train muscle-ups [00:00:30] and that’s clearly not what was going on. Can you unpack that a little bit for us?

Chris: Yeah, basically we have stupid ideas lots of the time. This particular stupid idea happened … It’s genesis was in Brazil as an entirely innocent, after-dinner conversation, where I believe Blane, Dan Edwardes, Stephane Vigroux, and Bruno, who was the actual Brazilian, and the reason the guys were out there, having a hypothetical [00:01:00] debate over whether one would prefer to do 10,000 pushups in a day or 1,000 muscle-ups in a day.

Craig: I think I would prefer to be absent that day.

Chris: It’s an entirely interesting and hypothetical conversation.

Craig: Or so you thought.

Chris: What harm can come from this? I didn’t get a say in this. I just get told about this I guess a few weeks later because during the course of this conversation Blane decides that 1000 muscle-ups in a day is clearly [00:01:30] less horrendous than 10,000 pushups in a day. And furthermore, he’s going to do it. At which point, Dan thinks it’s a great idea.

Great is probably putting words in his mouth. Dan is not willing to be left out of the idea at this point. If someone else is doing it, this is a great challenge. This is something to learn a bit more about yourself. Maybe you can do it, maybe you can’t. Let’s see what happens. Steph [00:02:00] agrees as well. Bruno, for his sins, also agrees to join in, and is a great help when we got around to the change a few months later, but probably spends more time with a camera than with a scaffolding.

Craig: Right. What is the big event? What is the big takeaway aside from having done it? I think you’re one of the guys who actually finished it.

Chris: Yeah. There were eight of us that decided to take this on in the end. Myself was number five. Andy Pearson, one of the other tutors from London, joined [00:02:30] in as well. Who am I missing? Jun Sato…

Craig: Oh, right.

Chris: He’s an amazing guy from Japan, who I think, over time some myths may grow up around this, but I’m pretty sure he delayed his flight so that he could stay in the country and do the challenge with us. Joe Boyle, who is another guy from London, coached with us, and he’s just a phenomenal athlete, especially when it comes to endurance and strength endurance challenges.

Craig: Right. He’s figuring out the pace [00:03:00] and how to get it done.

Chris: Yeah, well, I don’t know if he knew how to get it done or at least innately knew how to get it done, but he bloody well got it done.

Craig: A journey of 1000 muscle-ups begins with a single muscle-up.

Chris: Yeah, and then a second and so on and so on until you hit 1000.

Craig: Any particular takeaways from that other than you never want to do that again?

Chris: Which we will also return to. Yeah. Actually, it [00:03:30] is possible. We’re talking with some of the other guys here at the gathering about challenges and is it a challenge if you know you can do it before you start?

Craig: Yeah. I heard someone say, “It takes a special skill to set a challenge for yourself that you’re unable to do,” and at first I was like, “Well, no, I could challenge myself to climb Mount Everest tomorrow,” but to actually set a challenge that you would actually attempt that you are unable to do is actually tricky. It’s like breaking [00:04:00] a jump in a way.

Chris: Yeah, especially one that maybe you’re not able to do but you think there’s a possibility you might. In many ways, it is like breaking a jump. The jump won’t scare you if you can’t do it. Likewise, if you know for a fact you can’t do the challenge it’s not really a challenge because at no point do you have the intention to try and do it.

Craig: To commit.

Chris: The problem is you need something that is conceivable enough that you’re going to go in with 100% intention to try and get it done but far enough away that you don’t go in 100% [00:04:30] sure it is going to get done. The combination of it being pitched at that level, the guys that were doing it, and I suspect on certainly my part and a few of the other guys, a little bit of hubris.

Craig: I’m like, “He’s going to say hubris.”

Chris: Yeah. I think I realized somewhere in the middle of the challenge that I’d not necessarily bitten off more than I can chew but certainly stuffed a lot more in my mouth [00:05:00] than I was expecting. Then there’s all kinds of little moments throughout the day that made me think how much easier it was with other people around. I can’t say for sure but I’m 99% certain I would not have done 1000 muscle-ups that day if I’d been the only one doing it.

Craig: Yeah, what would the vision in your mind be? “I’m going to do 1000 muscle-ups in an empty …” it was basically like a gym. In an empty gym without any heat. It was in the winter. [00:05:30] That would be mind-boggingly demotivating to be by yourself.

Chris: As with more legends, I did hear tell [inaudible 00:05:39] one of the second-generation guys from Lisse in France … He either did 1000 or did 600 or 800, or some phenomenal number, but on his own in a playground on a fairly thick bar. Just did three, walked to the other side of the playground, did three, and … [00:06:00] Yeah. It goes to show the challenges that those guys would do to find out what they are capable of and to build what they were capable of.

On the value of challenge

Craig: If I remember correctly it was 14 and a half hours. Why would anyone want to put themselves through not necessarily that specific challenge but a challenge of that magnitude in general? What’s the potential payoff?

Chris: To learn something about yourself. Modern life doesn’t give you many chances of seeing what you’re capable of.

Craig: [00:06:30] Opportunities for growth.

Chris: Yeah. Seeing where your limits are. Yeah, I didn’t get better at muscle-ups that day for sure …

Craig: I think the quality went down.

Chris: Yeah. It was three days before I could do another one. I came out of it knowing that when things got really awful I could still keep going. Then when things got really awful I still had a bunch of great people around me that were able to [00:07:00] either …

Craig: Understand the viewpoint maybe?

Chris: Yeah. Also, I don’t know if it was inspire me or motivate me or just that energy kept me going. I wasn’t doing it because other people were there watching. I didn’t care what they thought of me. That was not the boost I got from having other people around. It was just other people in the space either going through the same thing or supporting us and bringing us cups [00:07:30] of teas.

Craig: Yeah, there were people helping.

Chris: Or doing their own challenges in the background or just staying awake, in the case of my, now the strongest Keighley, but at the time a much, much smaller, younger, and weaker Keighley.

Craig: Right away what comes to mind is where did you learn that lesson originally? You weren’t born with that lesson. Where did that come from? How did you learn that that was a good way to seek growth was to seek these kinds of really big challenges?

Chris: I [00:08:00] think that probably … Look, I can’t pinpoint when I came across that as a very specific, “Ah, this is eureka moment of this is the mindset I want to adopt”. I think it was a gradual influence of probably people and training over time. Guys like Stephane Vigroux when they were coaching in London and coming up with, “Yes, we’ll do some wonderful technical movement training” and we’ll just do some physical training but as a more common way [00:08:30] of just making yourself stronger.

But then just all these little challenges, whether it was stories of the challenges that they used to do … That’s how Stephane [Vigroux] started. He went to learn from David and he was just some scrawny little teenager. David [Belle] would be like, “Oh, go do 1000 pushups.” Steph would go away and do it and come back like, “What’s next?”

Craig: Then you’re on-call for seven days and whenever I call you or text you you do it immediately, right?

Chris: Right. The influence of those kind of people and probably the training they had coming [00:09:00] up as they were learning about disciplining themselves of … Yeah, this challenge is going to give you more than just the training of the challenge.

Just over time I’d see good guys like Steph [Stephane Vigroux] in London…

Thomas Couetdic… [otherwise known as] Thoma Dubois… was also in London…

Kazuma. Kazuma came and taught with…

It wasn’t even Parkour Generations as it was in the very earliest months. But, I’d say parkour coaching as it was in the first [00:09:30] three or four months and then eventually Parkour Generations.

For sure, Forest [Francois Mahop] and Dan as well.

A very strong ethos of both tough physical challenge but as a way of building you mentally as well as physically. I never went in search of that. I think it was definitely I went there to get stronger …

Craig: Slow discovery process that you realized, “This really works”, right?

Chris: Yeah. Both, “I want more of it” because [00:10:00] when you succeed in a challenge that you’re not sure about the sense of success and achievement is almost infinitely greater than succeeding in a challenge that you knew you’re going to do. I don’t think I was ever chasing that high but it certainly gives you a very strong feeling of pride in yourself and what you can do.

Craig: Right. Self-validation.

Chris: Yeah. I don’t know if I’d necessarily characterize it as validating it myself as [00:10:30] much of almost like a pleasant surprise about yourself. It’s like, “Ah, actually, I can do this.”

On using challenge as a way to grow

Craig: You’re very experienced as a tutor. I know you normally teach the adapt level two courses and you’ve done tons of teaching sessions all over the world. But I don’t know what percentage of your students are day one beginners. The question that I have in the back of my mind is, at what point does really big challenge … Is [00:11:00] that something that’s a really good tool for people? Can you really do that from day one if you find the correct challenge? Or should you start with small challenges and go scale them up as you find your feet?

Chris: Yeah. Well, obviously, the scale of the challenge is going to be entirely dependent on what people are capable of because the really big challenges are the ones that are either just out of reach or in your last 1% of reach. Whether it’s day one or day …

Craig: 1000.

Chris: [00:11:30] Yeah, 10 years, 20 years down the line. It may evolve over time. Like the challenge in 20 years may not be as great in number as the challenge on four or five years in but how far it is out of your reach there will always be a challenge in that zone. From the beginning it’s probably more a question of how people respond to challenge. [00:12:00] Someone can be on day one and respond to challenge really well and if they try something and it turns out, “Ah, I’m not yet capable of it” …

Craig: They also learn something, right?

Chris: Oh, yeah. It’s still a very valuable experience but some people will take that a little bit more at face value and some people may need challenges a little bit more in the yellow zone that are going to be difficult but are definitely achievable just to help them understand the merit of those ideas and help them feel [00:12:30] empowered through those challenges rather than beaten down by them.

Craig: Can I actually be training without their being the presence of challenge?

Chris: I think you’d be missing out on a huge element of the discipline if that were the case. It doesn’t have to be a crazy physical challenge like the muscle-ups because …

Craig: Yeah, I can’t do that every day.

Chris: Yeah. For some people, balancing on a [inaudible 00:12:56] for 10 seconds … Like if you fall off after five seconds, get back up. [00:13:00] Fall off after three, fall off after six. You spend an hour trying to balance for 10 seconds without falling off.

Craig: That’s a challenge. Yeah.

Chris: Absolutely, and a much greater challenge than just a strong guy banging out a couple hundred pull-ups for the sake of it. You don’t know if you can do the balance, right? That’s when they’re in their top 5% … Let’s dial it down from 1%. We don’t want to be quite so much in the stress zone the whole time. The genuine uncertainty of, “Can I do this?” Because that’s how you discover [00:13:30] something. If you knew that you could do it anyway you’ve not discovered anything.

I think you don’t always want to be like this. It can be a very stressful way to train if every session is, “I’ve got to challenge myself in a very demanding way.” But I think the way we learn or get better at almost any human skill is through challenge. It’s applying it. If you’re cooking you don’t stay cooking toast for 20 years.

Craig: Right. You need to move the bar, right?

Chris: Right, but [00:14:00] every time you move the bar you’re like, “I’m going to try something that is more challenging. Can I raise myself to meet that bar?” The people that make the most progress will be the ones … Not necessarily I’m saying they’re the best guys but the people that make the most progress will be the ones who are willing to change themselves. Where that end point is will change from person to person, but their personal growth will be defined to some extent by how much they are willing to encounter challenge at the right level for where they are physically, [00:14:30] mentally, experientially.

On finding challenge in more common activities

Craig: We’re here at Gerlev [International Gathering] and this is your sixth time here. You’re an old veteran at this. Elsewhere we have been discussing with lots of people what’s great about Gerlev… and you guys built a tire tower and we’re talking like large tractor tires. I don’t know how they even lifted them let alone stacked them. That thing must have been 20 feet high. When they were done they had a leaning Tower of Pisa. People hanging off of it trying to keep it upright. I was off [00:15:00] elsewhere and I looked around and I’m like, “Oh, a tire tower. What?”

That was an interesting challenge. I’m sure somebody said, “Hey, we should stack the tires” and then off you went but what was the value of it? It looked like a ton of fun and pushing it over was awesome too. Was that a challenge? Or was that just you guys having fun?

Chris: It certainly felt like a challenge because … It was a challenge of many, many, many challenges because at the beginning it was just, “let’s stack some up.”

Craig: Yeah, [00:15:30] where’s the biggest one? Put it down.

Chris: Yeah, then it quickly became both a … Not so much a mental challenge of, “Can I push through this?” Actually, let’s do some physics and engineering here. How do we get these lighter tires, as we got further on, up significantly greater and less stable heights.

Craig: Yeah, the whole thing was swaying and some of the people at the top they had to have their feet 12 feet off the ground easily. That was three people high.

Chris: Yeah, well, the people at the top [00:16:00] seemed to be much more comfortable than the people at the bottom. I don’t know if that’s because we were cushioning them or just they had significantly less idea of what the angle was like.

Craig: Or how hard the asphalt is.

Chris: Yeah, it was … Phillip, one of the guys I believe from Parkour One, certainly from Germany, just had a little challenge for us, which was, “Let’s do this.” As with all challenges, it started out, yes, as a bit of fun [00:16:30] and then you hit the point of, “Oh, how do we do this?” The moments of, “There’s lots of boxes around. We can use the boxes to stand on to get the tires up there.” The box making the challenge easier.

Craig: Do we need that? Can we do without that?

Chris: Samson, another one of the Parkour One guys, made a very good point of once we got the final tire on was how much less satisfaction we’d have got if we brought the boxes in to do [00:17:00] so. Not like it would have tainted our achievement but it would have lessened the achievement.

Craig: There are a lot of parkour memes and one of my personal favorites if you’ve ever trained with me … If you haven’t, please find me, I would love to train with you. One of my favorites is gapping and if you haven’t seen this and you haven’t done it it makes no sense. It’s basically trying to squeeze through the smallest space that you can possibly squeeze through. Then, “That was too easy. Now do it backwards” or upside down or if it’s a ladder, squeeze through the top [00:17:30] rung. Those kind of things. My first question is, is that the same sort of challenge? What are your thoughts on why are we drawn to that?

Chris: I think as with anything else if you choose the right hole it’s exactly … For some of the guys who have done it it’s been as hard a challenge as probably anything else they’ve done. I tend to find it a bit easier. Just in the sense that if my ass fits through the rest of me gets in.

Craig: [00:18:00] I’ve noticed that I’m getting a really good eye for spotting gaps that would be challenging and interesting for me and I know, for example, if I can get my shoulders through then I fit through. Everybody knows which part of their body isn’t going to fit through and which direction … They look at that and they spot those distances and things that are really easy for you might be impossible for me. It draws you in the same way that spotting interesting jumps do. You know that’s just possible [00:18:30] and I really should go over there and do that and then off goes someone.

Chris: What’s the longest you’ve seen someone to get through a gap successfully? It doesn’t have to be successful. One gap, how long were they there for?

Craig: I don’t think I’ve struggled for more than 10 minutes on a particular one. It’s probably about the longest I’ve ever seen.

Chris: 25 minutes was the record in 35 degree heat. I think got halfway through, came out for a bit for water, came back to his hips for a water break, didn’t come out of the gap. Two or three people were standing over him with his [00:19:00] hands creating shade and space. Chau Belle coming across and looking very unimpressed that we were doing this whilst he was teaching around the corner.

It was one of the real challenges of the day. Can we do this? I think in the split second he maybe didn’t understand what was going on and just saw some people messing around. Yeah, one of the hardest things we’ve done. And scary in the sense that, at least the way that I do it … If my bum gets through, [00:19:30] the rest of me will go but I may need to exhale quite a lot.

Craig: …and which ribs are attached and which are moveable?

Chris: Can I get through it quick enough or do I have to do the world’s shallowest breath halfway through before I can keep going? That’s always an interesting one of just, absolutely zero air left in your lungs and then trying to shuffle your way out.

On losing everything and finding renewed purpose

Craig: The obvious question is, why are you not still in the Middle East [00:12:00] today?

Andrew: I thought I would be. That was the dream. I had this vision of my life and what I was doing. I thought I’d move there. I’d fallen in love with the culture. I talked my wife into-

Craig: Opportunities to help people out.

Andrew: Yeah. I wanted to start maybe a nonprofit or something, helping especially kids in difficult situations, maybe in Palestine or something. It all fell apart. Long story short, I ended up [00:12:30] back in the US and feeling like I lost everything. I’d lost my plan. I’d lost my vision for what I thought my life was going to be. I’d lost this purpose that I had. I lost relationships. I’d made promises to guys over there. I was like, “Hey, I’m going to come back. I’m going to open this gym. Ready to start this thing.”

Craig: Right. You had to walk away from that, right?

Andrew: Yeah, I felt crushed. Coming back, I’d spent all my money. My car had broken down. We’d gotten rid of our apartment my [00:13:00] wife and I had. I had nowhere to live. I had no money. I had no possessions. I’d given away the last of my money I could before we left the Middle East thinking I was coming back and getting a job. I didn’t have my job anymore. I’d quit that. It all really tumbled down and fell apart, and I ended up feeling really lost. I ended up, my brother and I, in a moment of desperation [00:13:30] and-

Craig: Yeah, a journey right, the quest…

Andrew: Yeah, just like, “I don’t know what else to do.” We get in a pickup truck, and we started driving west. Took a road map with us and that’s it and just, “Let’s see where we end up and see what happens.” We drove, and we just kept driving until we got to Colorado. I don’t know, something about the mountains, I guess. We drove there, and we ended up driving up into the mountains and parking the truck on the side of the road, and turning around [00:14:00] and looking up and we were like, “All right, which … Let’s climb that one,” which, honestly, is a terrible idea. To anyone out there listening, that’s not the way to climb a mountain.

Craig: Weather forecast? Nah.

Andrew: We did it late in the evening, so it was a just grueling climb up this mountain with rocks falling and nearly dying on cliffs that we should not … no business being on. Get to the top, and it was sunset. It was a terrible idea, but one of those adventures where it ends up perfect.

Craig: Yeah, could not have planned it better.

Andrew: Yeah. [00:14:30] My brother and I are up there, coming up over the crest and there’s maybe a half mile left to go, and it’s snow at this point, snow and these wildflowers. It was the beginning of summer. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why I’m saying this on a podcast. I took all my clothes off and I just ran naked up the rest of the mountain. I felt like it was this moment, it was the right thing to do somehow. It was this … I don’t know if it was a metaphor for myself or if it was just how I was feeling that [00:15:00] I had nothing left.

Craig: Catharsis, right?

Andrew: On top of it all, I guess I didn’t mention, my knee was injured at this point, so I couldn’t do Parkour, either, and that’s something I wanted to be doing. I had nothing. I was like, “Okay, might as well take my clothes off, too. I guess I got nothing left.” I ran up this mountain naked, and was at the top. I come up over the crest, and the sun’s setting. Everything’s lit up. It’s all golden, and there’s just the Rockies spread out, just mountains, [00:15:30] as far as you can see. You feel like you’re on the top of the world. The sky’s so big when you’re up there. I don’t know. Here in Ohio, you drive through trees and buildings and whatnot, and the sky’s this blue thing up there.

Craig: Yeah, overhead, not all around.

Andrew: Yeah. You get on top of a mountain, you’re like, “No, the sky’s almost to your feet.” You’re just in this huge dome of the universe, and you feel so small. Just looking out at it all, I just threw my fist to the sky and [00:16:00] let out a yell of … I don’t know, of anger, frustration, of hurt.

Craig: Final fling of a- the last bit of a thing you were holding onto.

Andrew: Just shaking my fist at God and saying, “Why? Why is this? Why am I here? Why have I lost everything?” It’s weird. That moment was rock bottom for me, but it’s also the beginning of moving up, of a change.

Craig: Yeah, the new journey. From there, [00:16:30] you have two choices. You have the dark abyss on one side, literally, and then you have the journey that you chose.

Andrew: Yeah, I did. I felt like I had a choice, and I had to look and choose. Do I go into nothingness, I give up, I quit, I walk off the cliff ahead of me, I just run off it and scream and that’s it, or do I accept that, okay, everything’s been taken from me, but it was never mine to begin with? We come from dust, and we return to dust. We don’t have anything except what we’re given, and it’s a gift. [00:17:00] Life is a gift. Everything, every breath I have is a gift. Every step I take is a gift. If I only get to train Parkour one more time in my life, that’s a gift. It’s not a horrible thing. It’s a beautiful thing. If I’m paralyzed tomorrow, I still have been given so much. I guess in that moment, I had so much clarity of realizing I’ve been looking at life backwards this whole time. I’d been putting my motivation … Finding my motivation in, and putting my hope in, [00:17:30] all these things that I had, all these Parkour abilities-

Craig: Everything’s anchored in the future that way if you’re always thinking-

Andrew: Yeah. My plans for what I thought I was going to do with my life, how I thought things were going to pan out and all these things, and realizing … Yeah, it’s funny. Thinking back to the Daniel Ilabaca‘s words to me about, “Stop focusing on the future. You’re stutter stepping. You’re losing your strength.” I was running up to a precision jump, and I couldn’t hit it because I wasn’t putting my power into each moment, each step. I was [00:18:00] looking ahead of the jump. It’s so true. In that moment, I guess I hit that point of realizing that I can’t put my hope in all these other things because they all pass away eventually.

Craig: Sure. There’s no guarantee.

Andrew: I had to find something else to live for. I chose life. Between the two choices — the darkness, the abyss, and I think faith or [00:18:30] hope or something — I chose that. I said, “Okay, I’m going to believe that I think God has a purpose for me, that’s there some value for my life, that there’s something that was worth living for. I just have to try and seek that out and find what it is.” I put my clothes back on, and had a snowball fight with my brother, and drove back.

Craig: That’s the perfect ending, I was thinking, “I bet there was a snowball fight.”

Andrew: There was. There was a snowball fight. [00:19:00] I came back to Ohio and decided, “Okay, I’m going to be here…

Craig: Be here now for my family, for my community-

Andrew: Yeah, and not for myself and not for my plans and not for what I thought I was going to be done. It was weird. It was a weird moment. It’s all gone, so now it’s a blank slate. I’m here. What do I do? I feel like the answer that I got was, “love people.” You’re here in this place. Why [00:19:30] live here? Why not live somewhere else? It’s not for the weather, and it’s not for the training spots, or it’s not for any of these other reasons. Ultimately-

Craig: Sometimes it’s easy to fall back on and get complacent and say, “I live in this place. The sunset is gorgeous every day, and there are all these things,” and in some ways, the living in an environment where you don’t have any assistance, where things are just natural, just normal, that [00:20:00] requires you to rise to the occasion. You have to find the meaning in the moments.

Andrew: Yeah, I definitely was like, “Okay, I’ve said I’m in this place, so what do I do in this place?” I guess there’s people here, and there’s beautiful people here. They have value. I believe that they’re created with an inherent value. Each person is unique and beautiful, so I felt this calling to devote myself to that, that I should … [00:20:30] in as much as I had lost everything else to live for, that I’d found a purpose in living for love, that I found that I feel that I have been loved. That moment of realizing, “I’ve been given so much-”

Craig: Yeah, look at everything I have. Everything’s been taken away, but I still have all of this, right?

Andrew: Yeah. It’s a gift of, if nothing else, breathing. I’ve been given this gift, so in return, as much as I’ve been loved by God, how can I love others? [00:21:00] That really started digging me into the idea of community here in this place with these people. How can I-

Craig: How can I be a good father? How can I be a good husband? How can I be a good community member? What would that look like?

Andrew: Right, yeah. How can I do that … Even if it’s hard, even if it’s not … Sometimes I feel like people aren’t participating or they’re even fighting me in a way. Sometimes people hurt you in relationships. Sometimes you’re trying … I feel like I’m trying [00:21:30] to build a community and people are almost fighting against me in that, but I think that’s part of it. I think that’s part of loving people, is being able to take whatever they throw at you.

Craig: Right.

On starting a new community

Craig: When you’re deciding to actually create a space like the Akron Movement Family, you’re automatically going to face this contention because your normal community members are outdoor Parkour people; they’ve been in parks, they’ve been on sidewalks, and the standard things we think of, and now you’re saying [00:22:00] to them, “I’m going to make this space, and we’re going to train here.” In my experiences, I’ve seen a lot of struggle with people trying to bring their community indoors, and they tend to resist.

Andrew: Yeah. There’s resistance, I think. I’ve been told that there’s really two separate communities, and I’m finding the truth to that as I’ve tried to start a community and then be a gym owner. I had this vision. At the beginning, I thought the way it was going to work is I was going to build this community, and it was happening. I [00:22:30] was seeing this community build. I had this tight-knit group of guys. We would train every day, and it was growing. People were adding onto it. I think people saw the beauty in that group and wanted to be a part of it. Then that faded a little bit, and people moved away, and things happened. I ended up with the opportunity to start this gym, and I thought … I had always thought that I would build an outdoor community first and that we would have this tight-knit group, [00:23:00] and then we’d all come together and we’d make it happen.

Craig: Create this anchor point around which our community will then grow outward, right.

Andrew: Yeah. I had this vision. I remember seeing footage from Australia of the Owls Gang Parliament. I think it was those guys. They had a gym, and it was in a garage and with a bunch of janky stuff in a tiny little place, and everything’s grimy and everything’s a mess. I was like, “Yeah, that’s what I want.”

Craig: It’s a tool. It’s literally a tool that accomplishes their goal. It’s not shiny.

Andrew: I was like, if it’s that then you know it’s all heart. It’s no money, it’s no business. [00:23:30] That’s what I wanted, because I don’t want to be a businessman. Yeah, it didn’t really work that way. I thought that the community would come together and all do this together, but I’ve found that it’s hard. You have to fight through sometimes on your own and that outdoor community comes and goes, and they do their thing, but starting a Parkour gym is really starting a new community. We’ve had to start over from square one trying [00:24:00] to find people, find the people that we know are out there that would love this and would want to be a part of it and do it.

I guess thinking about trying to live out this new realization I had or this new purpose is … It all started with coming up with a name and a reason for what I was doing. It ended up being Akron Movement Family. I put a lot of thought into that name because I wanted it to represent what I was trying to do [00:24:30] and what I wanted to be and who I wanted to help. My sister and I, we were training together a lot at this point and decided to try and work together on this project. Talking things through and thinking about it, we really wanted it to be about community. We wanted the heart of it to be community, so we feel like the name had to be local. Akron had to be in there. [00:25:00] We wanted it to be about movement. I think I started to realize that movement is so central to life. It’s a strange thing because it seems like an abstract thought, “movement,” like what is movement or why do we move, but it seems to be the heart.

Craig: It seems to be deeply ingrained in the human experience. You go places, and you do some work on bars with people, and people [00:25:30] that you don’t know, maybe no common language, in a split second, you can tell whether they’re comfortable or whether they’re uncomfortable with bars. Is this the first time they’ve had their feet on a bar? There’s just so much in movement. It’s very intimate and very human.

Andrew: I had this thought I went through and became really fascinated with the idea that I think movement is life. Movement is life in so many different layers, both that … It’s kind [00:26:00] of the definition of life at a cellular level. A moving cell is living, whether that’s a tree or that’s an animal or that’s a human. That’s life, but then also thinking about water. Tracers often talk about the Bruce Lee quote, “flow like water,” but I think there’s even something more to that, which is so cool. My dad made a comment one time about moving water, the sound of moving water being so beautiful, and it started me thinking, “Well-”

Craig: What is it about that? Why are we drawn to [00:26:30] moving water?

Andrew: Everyone loves being at a river. People love water, but water is the basis of life. We’d die without water. Moving water is life. Stagnant water-

Craig: Yeah, stagnant water, probably not a good thing.

Andrew: It’s death. You drink that, you’re getting some kind of disease or something. That’s basic survival skills. We find beauty and we find life and purpose in moving, living water. If you don’t move, you’re dead, and I think that applies to us as humans, [00:27:00] how we live our lives, whether that is in relationships or that that’s just being physically, obviously, like are you just sitting all day. Are you just sitting in your car? What are you doing?

Craig: We’ve found ways to sit while moving.

Andrew: Yeah, we have. We somehow managed to do that. We got to get back to the point of remembering that if you’re not moving you’re dying. You sit long enough, you’ll die, literally from sitting. Your body will fall apart. It rots away. The same’s true [00:27:30] as … For me, as a person, am I moving somewhere? Am I progressing? Am I growing? Am I maturing, or am I stagnating? Am I sitting still and rotting in place? I think we have to be moving, and Akron Movement Family needs to be about that. It needs to be about movement.

Also, the third part of the name is family. I was really motivated [00:28:00] by different experiences through my life and really caring about kids and wanting to see a community that could be that, could be a family to people as … The more I live, the longer I live, the more I see that everyone’s struggling with something. Just because you made a kid that’s got a smile on their face doesn’t mean they’re not going through something horrible at home.

Craig: Right.

Andrew: My sister and I really came up with this vision to create a place where kids and [00:28:30] adults could come and have a space where they were safe and where they were loved, where they knew they were loved and cared about, and that they would feel … Whether they had this anywhere else in their life or not, that they would feel they had a family, and their family being people that love and care for them and are going to be faithful to them and be there for them, whatever they’re going through. Akron Movement Family was my attempt at trying to begin that [00:29:00] vision.

What did you see in Parkour, and in Denmark’s ‘Street Movement’ organization?

Craig: In the parkour world, Gerlev is best known for hosting its annual international gathering. Parkour’s presence and level of integration at Gerlev is unique. What I want to know is, what did you see in Parkour in Denmark’s Parkour organization Street Movement? What did you see in Parkour that caught your attention and sparked your interest in bringing Parkour to Gerlev?

Finn: Okay, that’s a good question because [00:03:00] it changed my life and it changed the strategy for Gerlev Sports Academy. It all happened, well 9, 10 years ago. I was watching a television program and in this television program, it was a national program where a lot of young people were what demonstrating different kind of skills. Then they should select the best skill, so that kind of program [00:03:30] in the television. I was just accidentally, I was watching the program and there I saw four young men, or young boys. They were in the 18, 19s. Then they were doing something they called free running and Parkour. I was looking at the guys and they were doing all that kind of challenging each other to jump easily from A [00:04:00] to B and to put it together as a show, as a presentation.

Then you have to understand, I’m a former gymnast. My life has been gymnastic. I was educated as a gymnastic teacher here at Gerlev, and when I was watching those guys I said, “This is, for me, the new happiness of doing gymnastic movements in a way which has not been destroyed by [00:04:30] some strictly rules about how the skills had to be done.” So I was… In fact those four guys they won that program.

Then I got in touch with those four guys and then I said, “Well, I’m the principal here at Gerlev. You may know about Gerlev. I would like to hire all four of you to be teachers here at Gerlev,” and they [00:05:00] said ‘yes’ because they were young and they had never been in touch with a sports Academy in that way, and now suddenly some crazy person asks them–

Craig: They found an advocate, right.

Finn: They find the situation where he wanted to them to visit this please and teach our students their way of moving, and it was absolutely funny. Those four young boys, they had not so much teaching experience, [00:05:30] and then you know, this Gerlev is in fact an old educational institution. We are founded in 1938. Those guys, they were climbing on the walls and on the–

Craig: On the buildings, right.

Finn: On the buildings and [crosstalk 00:05:49]-

Craig: You’re thinking, “What did I do?”

Finn: Yeah, yeah. No, this is absolutely, this is not good. Then I need to find out if this has something value. Then [00:06:00] after one year, we were talking and I said, “I’d love to continue this but we have some problem with the buildings. How can we do this?”

Craig: We need something for you to work on.

Finn: Yeah, and then one of the young boys, and I have to mention his name because–

Craig: Absolutely!

Finn: –because that guy is exactly the one who is in charge of this program you are visiting, Craig, here today, is Martin Kallesøe. He was one of those young guys and I asked him… or, he suggested [00:06:30] if we do some kind of drawings about some of the best spots we know from Europe and put it together in a very concentrated field here in Gerlev and then we build a pedagogical park where all this concrete and rails, and so on–

Craig: Yeah, yeah. The ideal example of each thing.

{ Note: The Gerlev Parkour Park. }

Finn: Exactly, so what happened, and this is in fact a scientific fact, [00:07:00] it is that at that time when I said, “Yes, let’s do that,” even, it was pretty expensive at that time but I believed them, so we built the first Parkour park in the world, because it was a park designed to teach for pedagogical reasons and not just for doing, but also to learn how to do it and, at the same time, understand the philosophy behind Parkour. [00:07:30] They are places where they have been practicing Parkour in Europe or maybe even in the states before, but it’s the first time that we created a park strictly for that reason.

Craig: Especially with that mindset. There are places where people have built Parkour places, but they’re set up for challenge. They’re set up for, “These are the kinds of technique things that we want to do,” and when you get to the one here at Gerlev, you realize, “This is a teaching [00:08:00] space.” It’s like coming into a gymnasium, only it’s obviously outdoors. It’s a very interesting space.

Finn: The funny part was that when they made the drawings and we put a lot of concrete and all the neighbors, they were saying, “When are you going to finish that building?”

Craig: It’s a three-story hulk. There’s a husk, there’s windows, there’s columns of walls. People who do Parkour see it and we immediately recognize the potential, but it looks like you quit halfway.

Finn: Exactly, [00:08:30] but we did that and I made one decision. You have to understand that this institution, Gerlev Sports Academy, or Gerlev Idrætshøjskole, is in fact very much strongly based on gymnastics, but I was on a crossway. Even [though] gymnastic has been my field. I was educated here. I was a young student here, returned back in the [inaudible 00:08:56] system teaching gymnastics. I returned for eight years [00:09:00] to be teacher teaching gymnastics here at this spot. I went to the University teaching gymnastics for 20 years and then I became headmaster. Then after two years, I decided to quit gymnastics at Gerlev, and instead of gymnastics I wanted to bring Parkour, the full potential to be the main subject together with street dance. I find [00:09:30] that the street dance, which became part of the Gerlev curriculum at the same time as I changed the philosophy about, “Well, I’m not fighting for getting gymnast. Now I’m fighting to get Parkour-interested young people,” and we have been doing that since, now for 10 years.

Craig: One of my impressions when I first got here was I looked at the facilities and I thought I knew where I was, and then when I started to move around in the space and they took us for a tour, and I realized [00:10:00] that the institution has this long history of there’s pictures on the wall of all the different classes. You can just see that this isn’t simply a school. There’s a lot more going on here that somehow the administration and the teachers and the students work together and live together. You read this place cultivates an individual responsibility, but then when you talk to the students who are here, you can just see that in them, so the English would say, “The proof is in the pudding,” [00:10:30] and it’s just patently obvious that Gerlev is accomplishing its goals.

Finn: Thank you. May I-

Craig: Absolutely.

Finn: It explains a little bit about because it’s even difficult to explain to the Danish politician what this kind of school is, so I fully understand if you have problem to try to grab it and to explain to young American, so it’s really … I fully understand because we are fighting really [00:11:00] to have the politicians-

Craig: Get the Danish to understand.

Finn: You see, before 20 years ago, a lot of the politicians in the parliament, they would have been students themselves at similar schools, but now the politicians in the parliament is very, very few of them, so they really don’t understand the personal developing which is happening in a place like this, and how we [00:11:30] are trying to create the feeling of how to reflect about your life, how to reflect about your society, how to reflect about how your sport is part of this society, and how we are influencing, and what good we are doing. We are, absolutely we are struggling to give the politicians this understanding, but they are nervous if they are [00:12:00] making too much-

Craig: Too much of a radical change.

Finn: Yeah. Then they are afraid of their voting and so on. My point is, I just changed a little bit because I’m traveling the world. I’m traveling, I’ve been doing this my whole life. In fact, I’ve been traveling the whole world doing gymnastics. I have been performing and I have been coaching all over the world. When I’m visiting universities trying to explain the students about what is Gerlev, really [00:12:30] I’m facing this again and again and again, but I have one sentence and I would like to share that sentence with you because in that moment I know I crack the students, and I’m saying:

Could you imagine that you are starting at an educational institution and we have no examinations? Then all the students [00:13:00] thinking about the next examination, the next examination and, “I lost two and I got only this mark,” and so on, and then you are here, you have an institution where the students are staying up to 10 months, from 4 up to 10 months, they decide, but we have no examinations. On the other hand, I tell them, “We may have a much stronger examination because if you don’t show that you want [00:13:30] to be here, if you don’t show that you want to develop yourself, then you are … There’s no reason for you to be here.” Then we say, “It’s maybe a better idea that you are leaving,” so that’s our way of having an examination.

On the future of Parkour: Is sportification unaviodable?

Craig: So Finn, do you see any potential hazards or problems that Parkour might face uniquely in the future?

Finn: Well, you have to understand that this is of course looking [00:14:00] from my point of view. It may be not the right point of view. Other views may be just as good and may be even better, but I’m just giving you my personal point of view on this. The reason why I’m in love with Parkour and try to be a center for Parkour in Denmark is that it has been unstructured. It has been free will. It has been the innovative feeling. [00:14:30] It has been explore the possibilities without rules. Now I know and I can see that we have reached the level with Parkour that the sportification will take over.

Craig: Right.

Finn: With sportification, just to give you my way of using the word, it is that when an activity suddenly become so [00:15:00] popular that sports organization, all the sports organizations that they realize, “Ah, here happens to be a potential to get new members.” Then suddenly the activity becomes something more interesting, not for all those values I have just been mentioning, but because it’s a possibility to increase the members of the sport’s organization, [00:15:30] and at the same time when you are into a sport organization in the world generally, Denmark is very confusing to explain about organizations, but in the world in general, then they will come into a sport’s organization which are running competitive programs, who is the national champion, the European champion. The optimal goal of those organization, and for some people [00:16:00] in the field of Parkour, is also, “Oh, can this be an Olympic …”

Craig: Can we get it to that point where it’s recognized like running.

Finn: Exactly, exactly. Here, I have to say that this is just my view I’m giving to you because I have definitely no problem in enjoying an activity who happened to be part of the Olympic family. It creates so much awareness [00:16:30] now, some entertainment feeling this, but from my personal and from my Academy’s point of view, then I prefer that this has nothing to do … You see, I have learned from other sports activities, and in fact my way of doing gymnastic, that when you start getting into this sportification, then to be able to compare, you need the rules to be more [00:17:00] and more and more strict.

Craig: Strict and normalized–

Finn: Suddenly, you are sitting in a very, very narrow field and you had to do it like this, and you have to do it by time, you have to do it … So all those aspects… People may like to look at it, but the innovative, the free will, the value of challenging yourself in a different way, that will be gone, in my opinion. That’s what I see as [00:17:30] the main problem.

Craig: The main problem. Do you think that the way to protect against that problem is to self-organize so that we can control the part of it that becomes a sport, that becomes sportified, that we can say, “That’s fine. It can go be structured,” but then we can preserve the nature of Parkour if we have control of it ourselves, or do you think we should continue on the same path of just having no organizational structure at all?

Finn: I believe that if … I [00:18:00] know this has been discussed a lot, and my point of view may be totally different but as soon as we begin organizing, then we are creating the basis for sportification because then suddenly you have an organization saying, “We are the real Parkour organization,” and another one saying, “No, no. We happen to be the real Parkour organization.” I’m working [00:18:30] all over the world in the field of sport for all, and I can tell you that until now, I have 15, 20 world organizations catering to the same people saying, “We are the organization which you have to belong to.”

Craig: “We represent you.”

Finn: Yes. It’s popping up and it’s still popping up, so in my opinion, then I feel that if [00:19:00] you go into a strong structured organization as a way to avoid the other one, then I believe you just create the best background to do it. So I feel that the network, that’s different, the network of groups in all the countries, that the network and use the word network instead of organizations because when you use organizations, then you run strictly into the typical [00:19:30] sport structure in the world.

Craig: Pyramid structure, right.

Finn: Exactly.

Introduction to Capoeira

Craig: So in Capoeira, the roda is this circle that most people have seen, where you have two people in the center, and if you don’t know what you’re looking at you think they are playing or dancing. Can you kinda unpack what’s going on there a little bit?

Paul: [00:01:00] A little bit. Usually you have a circle of people singing and dancing, clapping as well, call and response singing, and two people in the middle doing all sorts of inversions, and swirls, and spins, and it looks very choreographed, because you don’t see contact, generally speaking. The roda is the place where Capoeira lives. It’s the place where all of the training that we do is brought to its actual state.

Two people start together with the instruments, paying respect to the music. Then, based on the rhythm [00:01:30] and the words of the song, and the direction they’re receiving from the people running that circle. They have a conversation in movement, a dialogue back and forth with a call and response, just like what you’re hearing from the song, but it’s all with movement, physical movement. With attacks, with escapes, we call them attaque, and esquiva, and floreio, which is the flourishes, the pretty movements that people really think of when they think of Capoeira. It’s a dance, it’s a fight, it’s a game, and more [00:02:00] than that it’s a microcosm for life, and a place to escape the rest of all those things.

Craig: Okay, so obviously you love Capoeira, and I know you’ve done it for off and on in the beginning, but basically 15 years of this. So what happened to the love of your life there?

Paul: As and why did it stop, or how did it start?

Craig: Yeah, how did it stop?

Paul: Okay, Capoeira was the place where I learned social interaction. I was an Air Force kid. I moved like 30 times now. I’m 34. I moved all over the place, and [00:02:30] there was a movie many years ago, first got me into Capoeira. I didn’t get to try it until I was a senior in high school. At that point I was a complete loner. I had no external social skills, but everything I saw in Capoeira was fascinating to me. It fully engaged me, so all through college, and then as I started my career in San Antonio, and continued, I loved Capoeira, it was a big part of my life.

In that, I also learned about politics, and about things not working well. So there’s a lot of human interaction pieces to it, that were very challenging for me. [00:03:00] I felt the system I had been taught, and the things I believed, did not remain consistent. The things I had been taught 10 and 12 years before, were not where the art was at that point, or especially in my community. I felt like there was no chance I would ever reach a place where I could be teaching, which had been a goal at one point in my life.

Craig: Oh, okay.

Paul: I kind of lost the connection, the-

Craig: Yeah, the joy-

Paul: The incentive, the carrot disappeared for me. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be that thing anymore, [00:03:30] and I didn’t know where I was in it. There was some specific social things that happened, and a relationship that ended that kind of made me have the conversation with myself of why am I doing this. The answer was that, there wasn’t a good reason, other than that I had always done it.

Craig: It was just the thing that you have been doing for so long.

Paul: Yes. Capoeira comes with a literal baptism. You get baptized into Capoeira. It’s called Batizado. That’s your first big event, and we have them every year, and all the guests come. It’s a baptism of earth, because they put you on the ground. So it’s very [00:04:00] much a thing, and that’s also where you first receive your Capoeira name, your apelido, your nickname in Capoeira, your alias of Capoeira. I was “Spaghetti”. I was tall, thin, and white. Not much has changed. That name is the name I went by, and still many people called me nothing else from about the age of 19 or 20 … wow yeah, more than 10 years. That identity was who I was. Leaving [00:04:30] that was pretty traumatic for me, and at that point I started going by my middle name. That was when I became Paul. So it was kind of a big moment for me. Leaving that was very difficult, and I was left not knowing who I was, or what I was going to do, but I ended up in parkour.

Movement and Conversation; From Capoeira to Parkour

Craig: One of the things that I see, when I’ve seen Capoeira is, it’s clearly a conversation. You can see that it could be combative and antagonistic, but there’s a conversation happening there. A lot of times in parkour, there are certain people I have in mind, that conversation is happening when you train with them, and in other situations that’s missing. So I’m just wondering [00:09:00] what your thoughts are, from an original Capoeira point of view, coming into parkour.

Paul: Sure. Capoeira is … One of the most common books on it is called The Origins of the Dance Fight Game. We can’t even manage to get a name right on it, because it’s more than each of those things.

Craig: What? A sport that doesn’t know what to call itself?

Paul: Strong parallels right. There’s a big part of that is, how you respond to external things beyond your control, and then how you master then. That’s the part [00:09:30] that makes it completely organic. Why do they never hit each other? Well they are trying to-

Craig: They are trying to-

Paul: But you see it coming, and you get out of the way. Now in the same way, and this is actually, I’m a wordsmith, I’m a poet, I love words and that’s the analogy I’ve always preferred for Capoeira, you learn a vocabulary of movements. You can think of those as a language. Then the grammar and the structure, if I were to say to you, “Hey how’s it going?” That might be doing a gentle movement near you, and occupying your space, interacting with your environment, making you respond physically. You can choose a response like, [00:10:00] “Oh, I’m interesting. How are you?” Or you can say, “Get away from me.”

Craig: I’m feeling injured and vulnerable-

Paul: Right, and so that is exactly the same way, informed a little bit by music, but also you choose. If someone comes in really hot and heavy from the beginning, you’re like, “Quit yelling at me.” It’s almost the same level of interaction, but also, from the very beginning in Capoeira, no matter what level you are, you can play the game with anyone. My first summer in Capoeira, with no experience, feeling like [00:10:30] a gawky, barely out of his teens kid who knew nothing about what he was doing, surrounded by these Adonis examples of human beings … Was that everyone was in every show, and we did shows at every public library in San Antonio, which is like 20-plus separate performances. In public, without a shirt, with just white skinny pants on. It was very difficult for me at that point in my life, but I learned that was part of it.

You can play with anyone. They’re not playing down to you. Is like having a conversation with someone, where [00:11:00] your language is their second language. You don’t think there are any less intelligent, or any less capable of carrying on the conversation-

Craig: In fact, you try harder. If I know that is not your first language, then I’m trying to be more particular about the things that I ask of you.

Paul: Exactly, you’re controlling … Your word choice must be more careful, so that you don’t send the wrong message, and your awareness for their space, and that is how it is to play Capoeira with someone, and we do call it playing Capoeira, that is all it is ever called, with someone who is not yet as versed as you are maybe. [00:11:30] That mindset around coaching Capoeira, you learn from beginners as well. You start teaching very early on.

Craig: What was the phrase-

Paul: “I am a master who learns. I am a student who teaches.” It was the first quote I read when I opened Nestor Capoeira‘s, The Little Capoeira Book, which was my first Capoeira teacher. Later I un-learned a lot of the things I taught myself wrong, but in that-

Craig: Ah, the human existence right?

Paul: Yes. Well, until I had other people. The social aspect is how we learn.

Craig: Oh, that’s a good-

Paul: …and that ties [00:12:00] in directly to, how does this now all apply to parkour? Well, in parkour, we are moving, and we’re still having that conversation, but rather than having it in this pure philosophical realm where it’s just two people talking across a table, and I say that to say that the roda is just a circle on the ground.

Craig: Right, there’s two people talking across the proverbial table in a circle.

Paul: There’s nothing else in that space. Now you start adding obstacles, obstacles to understanding, obstacles to reaching what may or may not be your goal … [00:12:30] Or, and then when you talk about people who do this, contact improvisation comes to mind and there’s specific movers, but when you play with your environment, and I use the term play from an educational sense, not a trivial sense. That’s always a conversation. From a Capoeira sense, playing with your environment is engaging with your environment, responding to your environment. When you do a thing, find out what the environments doing, come back. It’s almost like stationary Capoeira is like, imagine this wall is just a person, in [00:13:00] a set scheme-

Craig: In a set position-

Paul: Like in a block. Now what can I do around that? That gets a little further into what I did once I got with the two together, but I think that conversation piece comes from taking the landscape of the conversation that you’re having with someone, or with movement, and then how do these things fit into this conversation of movement. So is not always imposing my will. I want to do this line, this way. That can be one mindset that you see people have, versus this place … [00:13:30] I want to play with the idea of how I would vault over this to that.

Craig: Right, what opportunities are here.

Paul: Right, and those are very different mindsets that both exist. I know a lot of people might approach their training both ways, different days. For me, I usually need some sort of that engagement piece, or it doesn’t seem as fun to me. Just doing that same line over and over, it can be like optimizing, there’s different things there, but that is what really came to me.

Craig: Everybody [00:14:00] who has been to the situations where someone, or a small group of people, are working on a particular challenge in a line, and then you develop the bystander group, and suddenly it’s a group of people watching other people do parkour. The question I always have is, where does that actually come from? Does that stem from the people who are doing — let’s call that a line — the people who are doing that line, that challenge, or is it somehow coming from the people that are watching what’s going on? Is there an ego at play there somewhere?

Paul: Sure, I think that it can really depend on the type of challenge. [00:14:30] So there’s something to be said for fun. You’re with people who are pushed through the same type of challenge you’re doing. That’s one thing that we want to foment at jams. Where you get those people together to challenge each other and do something really hard, and there might be a question of accessibility. Other people will start watching that, and that can be super discouraging. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be done, at all. On the contrary, it’s a really important part of it, but I feel like there is a … very often a, “I could never do that,” syndrome-

Craig: Sure-

Paul: Which we hear constantly from bystanders-

Craig: Which I totally associate with!

Paul: …and I feel like that, [00:15:00] it’s … I mean I don’t want to call it “ego”, because that makes people think of the … Of being too proud-

Craig: “Id” might be a better word.

Paul: Id might be. Yeah so, that the internal feeling, the sense of shame that you’re not good enough to do that challenge, or that you might never be able to, or you thought you were doing pretty good but look at these guys. These are all things that make people unwilling to continue moving in that moment.

Craig: They disengage from that conversation that we’ve been describing-

Paul: They’d rather just watch, because there is safety in spectating. When I think about communication, let’s tie this back- [00:15:30] it’s about a place where you can have people … You can choose what communicating you are doing as a group, and if it becomes clear that two or three people’s challenge is disengaging a huge number of people at that jam, being able to create a group of challenges, or similar challenges, or whatever it is to give other people something they can find manageable and engaging, and know that’s okay. That’s kind of about creating safe spaces, but I think it’s very much about being aware [00:16:00] of what’s being communicated to whom, and who or what they’re communicating back through their movement or lack of movement. In Capoeira, if the person doesn’t play with you, they don’t say anything to you, they don’t do anything, you wouldn’t just kick them.

Craig: Well you might; I wouldn’t!

Paul: I mean if you didn’t have a reason, no. If there’s in the roda, they showed up to the place where the conversation happens, and they don’t say anything, that instantly is a concern. You can’t have a conversation with only one side. [00:16:30] That would require a stop right there. That game is over. Someone else would call the game, and have the two people step out, or one person else step in. So in my mind, if you’re at the place where everyone has come to play, to move, to train hard … If “game” isn’t what works for your mind for that, to get that training and with other people, and to share that experience. People who feel disengaged from that, they’re communicating something too. I think it’s [00:17:00] super dependent on who is there, the situation, and being able to play with those energies, which is something I also picked up in Capoeira. The understanding, why might this motivation be happening. What is someone feeling, or not feeling in this moment.

I think my happiest times are engagement with others. That isn’t necessarily the truth for everyone, but … If you’re never engaged by training with other people, then jams aren’t probably something you’re attending anyway.

Returning to nature; A critical piece of parkour

Craig: I want to talk about [00:17:30] the return to roots. Get into the whole-

Paul: Sure, Return to the Source.

Craig: Return to the Source.

Paul: Very briefly, I took a hiatus from my career in San Antonio. I was invited by Tyson to come out to Parkour Visions, and see how they run things, maybe open a gym at some point in the future in Texas, whatever was going to look like. I was director of member services for about a year and a half. Then I spent some more time there, getting to explore it, because I had been working a lot in the gym, and hadn’t gotten to explore the northwest. I got to spend a lot of time, especially [00:18:00] the end of that, with Rafe Kelley. He was former head coach, and one of the founding type guys from Parkour Visions. He now does Evolve, Move, Play, is what he calls his organization.

He was inviting me out to do more movement in nature. If you’ve never been in the Pacific Northwest, visit all the nature there. It’s incredible. It’s the most benign wilderness I’ve ever heard of. Just gorgeous, you can be in snow in the morning, and then skinny-dipping in the Puget Sound in the afternoon. It’s just pretty amazing. [00:18:30] He’s from north of Seattle, and Return to the Source is going to his father’s land and camping. It’s a week of going to different national parks up there, going to water, to rocks, to trees, cold water immersion, combative and roughhousing, climbing together, moving together, but really tribe. Creating a tribe of about 20 people-

Craig: Right, a literal retreat, where people are cooking together, and spending time together, and setting up camps together.

Paul: Absolutely, [00:19:00] and with a goal of exploring what humans evolved to be, or as to say what our ancestors experienced by being in nature, by being in the wild, by having this interaction with nature-

Craig: I always say rediscovering your birthright.

Paul: Sure, and experiencing what that does to you mentally, physiologically, physically. How you feel differently just by having been in nature. Then challenging yourself in a lot of fun ways as well. This [00:19:30] includes kind of culminating, and climbing up through a waterfall cave on one of the last days. It’s just a glorious … You’re overcoming challenges together, and exploring nature, and yeah. That was this past summer, June 2016 I went, and it was really incredible for me. It changed my relationship with nature, which is a big, big one-

Craig: That says a lot right?

Paul: Yeah. I had mentioned, as a kid I had been running around in the woods, but somewhere along the way [00:20:00] I did software development. Now I manage software development. I sit at a computer so much of my life, I had gotten … I nearly drowned in a river in Texas when I was three. So I had a point where I really kind of was very averse to natural water. So it got to a place where we were doing swimming in lakes, and being in rivers, and running down the river and things, and it was just a fantastic application of movement that I did. That I enjoy, but also really covered everything I’d learned in all my evolution in parkour, [00:20:30] and Capoeira. The social element as well, coaching even. It was really cool.

Craig: Most people’s perception of parkour, is that it’s an urban activity. People have taken the time to train, and to study, and to read will have discovered that actually has roots that go literally into the woods. What you’re just talking about with the Return to the Source seems to be something that I think people miss in their parkour training. There seems to be something missing there. If you’re only practicing [00:21:00] in an urban environment, there’s a piece.

Paul: Yeah, and Rafe would say that you’re missing the critical piece. That’s a big part of that. That is actually part of his mission, is to be teaching people how to rediscover the rest of the world. So the rest of the world is outside of our cities. I think that is totally understandable, if you were in an area, that was full of abandoned buildings, and that was the city you were in-

Craig: This is your natural environment, at least in the beginning-

Paul: That’s your environment, but movement [00:21:30] isn’t restricted to the context of the place you came from. For me, especially … In the same way that one of the things I enjoy now in parkour that I could not have in Capoeira is that I do Capoeira now between trees, or while balancing on rails, or somewhere that has environments, because it’s more interesting to me. That’s not where it, where it came from originally, I don’t pretend it was, but I’m applying those skills in a broader place. I feel that once you step out into other environments in the world, try rock climbing, try [00:22:00] trees.

Rafe likes to say, when you grab a tree, your hands get uniformly, unlike a bar, where you have calluses in one spot. If you’re grabbing tree branches of different varieties, and different thicknesses all the time, his whole head is a callous. It’s a completely different thing that happens. That’s fine I’m not trying to say that those are better or worse, just that there are other obstacles in the world, and when you interact with them, you have a chance to have new relationships, new conversations with your movement, and with nature, your environment, and the obstacles, which I personally [00:22:30] find terrifying, because everything is not square edges. Also, man it’s-

Craig: It really wakes you up-

Paul: Yes-

Craig: To the proprioception, to the spatial awareness.

Paul: Very much.

Craig: The majority of parkour that I’ve seen, I think people would agree when I say this, the majority of parkour is human beings running, using their hands but vaulting type of movements, flips and spins, but they’re moving over the built spaces. Or they’re moving over [00:23:00] rocks, and there’s a whole aspect of arboreal existence that goes back millions of years, and getting out into that natural environment … The first time you step under tree branch and brab it with your hand, your brain just goes, “Oh I know what that is.”

Paul: Yeah and you see, lachés are a huge thing, brachiation you’ll see on bar sets and things. That’s cool to train and there’s some really neat things that have come out of it, definitely, but when you get into a huge batch [00:23:30] of a tree that just sprawls over several square yards [crosstalk 00:23:33]-

Craig: Yards right-

Paul: And you’re able to, everywhere around you is a thing you can grab, that could take you, different area if you’re pulling or pushing. It’s an experience that, as someone who is enjoying and appreciating this movement art of exploration, parkour, whatever you want to call this thing that we do, this movement stuff, it’s nourishing, is another word you might use for it, because it’s like, “Oh yeah, I love [00:24:00] trying new obstacle movement because this is where I get to explore what the things I’ve trained in the urban environment, how do they apply here, and vice versa.” It’s just kind of like how do we, and again, I come from a very play centric background. In Capoeira, we play. No matter how were working we call it playing. So for me, engaging work is play. How do I play with this to become better at all the things, or whatever else my [inaudible 00:24:29] might be?